For the sixth consecutive year, Centro Mexico — a pro-immigrant group in Panorama City— is collecting jackets, sweaters and other warm clothing to distribute to deportees at a Posada (Christmas party) in Tijuana next month.
But they’re not just collecting items for adults. This year, they’re also collecting children’s clothing and food items for the thousands of Central American migrants now stationed at the Mexican border city, waiting to petition for asylum.
“Everything has changed, but the need of the people is still there,” said Gloria Saucedo, director of Centro Mexico. “It’s a humanitarian crisis.”
The crisis reached a zenith on Sunday, Nov. 25, when hundreds of migrants — who had arrived from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras trekking for weeks through Mexico — protested before immigration agents at the San Ysidro border crossing, prompting the closure of that passage for hours.
It ended in a confrontation where migrants were pelted with tear gas. According to some witnesses, the migrants responded by throwing rocks.
“For us who have come here, we understand the desperation of heading to the United States, why parents would risk their children,” Saucedo said of the migrant caravan.
“They come looking for new horizons, even if they have to put up with all these consequences.”
Praise and Rebuke
Pro-immigrant groups have strongly criticized immigration agents for shooting tear gas at the migrants, while President Donald Trump and other anti-immigrant groups have defended their actions, claiming that in reality what the migrants wanted to do was storm the border and try to cross illegally.
That day, reports also surfaced indicating that the US and Mexico were trying to reach a deal where asylum seekers would remain in Mexico while their petitions were reviewed. Currently they are allowed to remain in the US.
Mexico denied such an agreement, but the migrants did not believe it.
“It is a despicable act on the part of the Trump Administration and CBP officials to attack defenseless women and children firing tear gas, a chemical agent, at them,” said Angelica Salas, executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA).
“These are human beings who are reaching a point of desperation because their asylum claims are being processed at a snail’s pace or not at all.”
Only about 40 people are being allowed to file their asylum claims daily at the border, and even before the migrant caravan arrived, there was already a months-long backlog.
On Monday, Nov. 26, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen wrote on Facebook that it was an act of self-defense on the part of the immigration agents.
“First, the violence we saw at the border was entirely predictable. This caravan, unlike previous caravans, had already entered Mexico violently and attacked border police in two other countries. I refuse to believe that anyone honestly maintains that attacking law enforcement with rocks and projectiles is acceptable. It is shocking that I have to explain this, but officers can be seriously or fatally injured in such attacks. Self-defense isn’t debatable for most law-abiding Americans,” she noted.
“Second, the caravan is far larger and more organized than previous ones. There are 8,500 caravan members in Tijuana and Mexicali. There are reports of additional caravans on their way,” she stated.
“Third, the overwhelming majority of these individuals are not eligible for asylum in the United States under our laws. Historically, less than 10% of those who claim asylum from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are found eligible by a federal judge. 90% are not eligible. Most of these migrants are seeking jobs or to join family who are already in the US.”
Meanwhile, Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has declared an international humanitarian crisis and blasted the Mexican federal government for allowing the migrants to concentrate in the city.
Tijuana, a sprawling border city of about 1.6 million, has long been a waypoint for migrants to enter the US and for those who are deported. Hundreds already filled the immigrant shelters there. The arrival of thousands of new immigrants has put an extra strain on an already dire situation.
Nearly all of the caravan migrants are being sheltered in Tijuana’s Benito Juarez sports center. Officials say the center, which is already over capacity, cannot hold any more migrants while still maintaining even minimal safety and sanitary conditions.
Tijuana Residents Affected
The situation is also weighing heavy on Tijuana’s residents, who had already protested and decried the caravan before.
On Sunday, caravan migrants and people who sell food and other items at the San Ysidro border crossing also got into scuffles as the port of entry was closed for several hours, and the merchants were not allowed to peddle their products.
Then there are those who cross the border everyday for work.
The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol spoke with “Tavo,” a Tijuana resident who makes such a crossing from his home in Tijuana to his work in San Diego. He walks from one country to the other to take a trolley that will take him to his employment.
“It now takes me longer to cross,” he said. “If before we waited an hour, now it’s taking two and even three hours to cross. And when (the immigration agents) do their drills the port of entry is closed for up to 30 minutes.”
“It affects me and a lot of people who work here in San Diego, and tourists and merchants at the border,” he said, clearly frustrated.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, new government leadership takes over in Mexico and the hope is that it stabilizes the situation, which currently changes everyday.